School Board May Decide to Close Phoenicia Elementary School
by Jen Dragon
There is an important school board meeting Tues 1/10 6pm at Bennett Elementary and it is critical that Phoenicians attend and speak up in order for your point of view to be on the record. There are three plans on the table to reconfigure the elementary schools in the Onteora district in order to improve services and save money. All three save at least 2 million dollars. But the one that will negatively impact us is the choice that involves closing Phoenicia Elementary. Phoenicia Shopkeepers depend on the business generated by the school. If the Phoenicia School is shut down, a significant percentage of local business will be gone. Our small shopkeepers are the backbone of this rural economy and if Phoenicia businesses suffer or atrophy, the value of the real estate in our area will stagnate and this can have a negative impact on the tax base for the entire Onteora School district for years to come. If the alternative is to designate the elementary schools at Phoenicia and Woodstock and make Bennett the middle school, with a minimum of job losses and 2 million in savings, then that would be the good sense thing to do, right? Especially since this year’s kindergarten class at Phoenicia Elementary is the largest ever! Sadly, some neighbors in Olive don’t agree and have begun a hostile campaign against our town and advocating loudly to shutter our School. Please let your voice be heard! Even if you say one sentence, it’s critical that we speak up at the meeting so the Board can understand that a loud minority does not speak for all of us! Please read below the letter from the School Superintendent outlining the 3 choices so you can understand the current issue and please join us tomorrow night at 6pm at the Bennett School.
Dear Community Members:
This fall, as Superintendent of Schools, I have been coming out to different community forums, sometimes alone and sometimes with Board of Education members, to share information about the Onteora Central School District. To summarize, the Onteora Central School District, like many other school districts in rural New York, is experiencing the challenges of increasing State mandates at a time of reduced State resources, while at the same time wanting to improve student learning and retain the cherished qualities of the District.
To meet the aforementioned goals, the Board of Education is considering plans to reconfigure and consolidate our educational programs, services, and schools to meet the challenges of decreasing financial resources from the State and Federal governments along with a decreasing student enrollment. Currently three models are being considered.
The first two models focus on clustering students based on grade levels to allow for a greater focus on student learning and professional staff development and collaboration. These models are being proposed because they consolidate services and, therefore, save the District money, while enhancing the educational program for students.
The first model is to keep all three schools open, with both Phoenicia and Woodstock educating all students in smaller K-3 primary schools and Bennett educating students in an intermediate school for students in grades 4-6. The vision for this model is to have two small primary schools that would serve as early literacy centers with a focus on ensuring each student successfully completing school at grade three with being competent in their reading, writing, math, and learning skills. Parent workshops focusing on child development and fostering learning would be offered to round out the curriculum. Bennett Elementary would focus on the intermediate curriculum through a commitment to project-based learning with an emphasis on the humanities and the integration of the arts to enrich and challenge all students. Parents would be offered workshops to teach them about the new Common Core Learning Standards and how to help their children. This model could potentially save the district two million dollars annually based on staffing reductions.
A second model, similar to the first model, would make Woodstock Elementary School the only primary school, and Bennett would be the only intermediate school. This model would have all of the advantages stated above, but would result in a larger primary school and the loss of a local community elementary school; also some primary students would need to travel from the far western part of the district to attend Woodstock. Because this model further reduces staffing and closes a school building, the savings would be approximately closer to three million dollars annually.
The third model would make both Bennett and Woodstock the only two K-6 schools. Students from Phoenicia would be reassigned to Bennett and Woodstock, depending on the location of their residence; some Bennett children may also need to attend Woodstock. This model saves approximately two million dollars annually because it closes a school and consolidates some services. This model would probably be easiest to implement, however, it would be mostly a financial decision as it would not contribute to enhancing the educational program.
In summary, the Onteora Central School District will being going through major changes for the start of the 2012-13 school year. All three plans call for changes, transitions, and adjustments by the children, families, communities, and staff. The Board of Education is committed to making the best decision for the future of the children and our school district community. On behalf of the Board of Education and myself, we encourage you to attend our Board of Education meetings; the next one is January 10th and then January 24th. Please check our district website and Facebook to stay connected.
Superintendent of Schools